Lamplighters Brilliantly Reimagine Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe

Cary Ann Rosko as Fairy Queen and her fairies take control of the Lord Chancellor
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By Henry Etzkowitz

The ensemble is the message. A whole greater than the sum of the parts is the Lamplighter artistic premise.  Whereas theater in general and music theater in particular tends to foreground the individual star performer, the troupe is the Lamplighter star. In this irreverent performance of an irreverent original,  Lamplighters  seamlessly take us into a world where fairies do not age and a  Queen crosses class boundaries, choosing for her mate a hefty Beefeater guard, a private in rank. Can a bi-gendered world become one and if so which gender shall dominate or is a synthesis at hand? 

Eric Mellum, Joshua Hughes, and Michael Grammer

The action begins with a balletic Sleeping Beauty mass maiden awakening  scene,  revealing  patriarchal privilege exercised over disposition of young female wards. The usual G&S gentle chafing of gendered inequities and upper class privilege is displaced by a more serious if masked critique. Female solidarity overcomes classed gender divide is the headline, with a Me Too movement precursor calling out male misbehavior.  The costumer rules the Lamplighters time shifting version of late 19thcentury light-hearted spoof to fraught war-time early 40’s Britain. A dystopian background of skewed Houses of Parliament, twisted lampposts and sentry box adjacent to debris pile including patriotic signage. A bilious green dress and fanciful upturned hat evoke the era. 

Lamplighters Iolanthe is a gloss on the early Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, depicting a future peacetime society where all persons could achieve a free multi-faceted lifestyle. Fairies provide a methodology to bridge the gap from vision to new reality. Indeed, Marx has oft been chided for skipping from analysis of problem to utopian goal. In reality just after the war, the UK put in place the National Health, making medical care a right not a privilege; achieving close to classlessness, with only a marginal private medical sector surviving.  (The author recalls handing in prescriptions at the  Superdrug  Newcastle pharmacy, a CVS-like venue, during a UK stint, benefiting from the No-cost prescription  policy for over 65’s.) This societal reward for wartime service was provided by the immediate post-war Labor government.

Michael Grammer, Maria Caycedo, and Eric Mellum

In a unified all fairy gender model ending, males rise to female fairy status. As the wingless sprout wings and everyone becomes a fairy, Marx’s prediction of a classless  egalitarian future is realized on stage. Gilbert and Sulllivan’s Iolanthe, brilliantly rethought by the Lamplighters, depicts in arch-versed song, the inevitable societal transformation that Karl Marx inferred from parliamentary workplace reports in the British Museum. The revolutionary socialist thinker and the Edwardian theatrical duo resided in the same city, if not the same district, and drew from a common cultural milieu.

Julio Ferrari and Cary Ann Rosko

You will enjoy this version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s IOLANTHE,
or, The Peer and the Peri – August 21, 2pm and 7pm, Bankhead Theatre, Livermore

Tickets –, (925)373-6800

Photos are courtesy of Lamplighters

Barbara Keer

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